Try this way:
a) Turn down exposure compensation to somewhere near -1 or -2 depending on what you’re shooting and where.
This makes the metering be where you are used to, no need to dial in “M” mode.

b) make sure to have SPOT metering active.
Makes it possible for YOU to decide what should be metered. Automatic isn’t always getting things right.

c) Adjust ISO upward if needed for faster shutter speeds.
For high ISO, be prepared to use noise reduction software.

Nikon D300:
d) Find the setting for autofocus on “AF-ON-only” and activate it.
YOU decide when AF should be attempted – anticipate shots, find focus BEFORE any action takes place and keep it there while taking more shots.

Now point that spot on different things for testing, and find out where you get what YOU want.