This paper draws upon qualitative research with ‘socially excluded’ young people in the North East of England. It proposes that the concept and study of ‘leisure careers’ is useful in understanding the transitions, (sub)cultural experiences and identities of social groups like this. The empirical focus is upon the significance of leisure careers in the neighbourhood-based, social networks of some criminally involved, socially excluded young adults. Theoretically, we argue that a focus on leisure careers, as part of a broad, holistic approach to youth transitions, can help overcome some of the problems that currently affect youth studies. In particular, fuller examination of shifting, leisure-based activities and identities within studies of youth transition may help bridge the analytical divide between that tradition of youth research and that which focuses primarily on youth culture and identity.