Participation in sport has often been related to positive developmental outcomes for socially vulnerable youth. However, we know very little about the role of sports participation in a socially vulnerable childhood. Taking a life-course perspective, we conducted interviews with 10 young adults to reflect on their socially vulnerable childhood and the role of sport in their lives. Using interpretative phenomenological analysis, we discovered that four different roles of sports participation in a socially vulnerable childhood could be discerned. First of all, sports participation offered youths a safe place that allowed them to escape the struggles they faced in everyday life and that provided them with support, appreciation and feedback that they did not find in other life domains. Secondly, sports participation offered learning experiences that contributed to valuable insights about themselves or the world around them. Thirdly, sport could be an instrument to reach goals and as such sport became a resource in itself. Fourthly, sports participation could fulfil a purpose in life for socially vulnerable youth and become an important part of their identity. The participants’ accounts showed how sports participation filled a specific gap in their lives and they mostly shared positive experiences. However, the participants’ accounts also indicated the potentiality of sport to instigate a negative spiral of vulnerability, and therefore we have to remain critical towards the value of sports as a tool for positive youth development.