Since most digital cameras are slower than film cameras, I find using the manual focus mode for action shots. I focus on something at about the same distance as the action before I shoot.
Along with using manual focus, I usually use the aperture priority mode and set the f-stop to f8. This increases the field of focus and helps guarantee that the subject is in focus.
You don't get results like they do in the newspaper (with the background out of focus), but at lease you get a picture of the action.
It also helps to zoom out. You can always crop the photo before printing or sending.