Emily Goddard
Mike RowbottomThere are, of course, British athletes whose mental preparation appears to be spot-on for the big occasion. Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford – all delivered as expected at this summer's London Olympics; Rutherford, indeed, delivered over and above.

But the final figure of six medals garnered on home ground by British athletes – albeit that four were gold – fell two short of the target set by UK Athletic's performance director, Charles van Commenee. And so the Dutchman walked, and Neil Black, a well-regarded physiotherapist and sports scientist took over, with an immediate brief to find a new head coach.

But Black's first "signing" has not been a head coach – although it has been a "head coach" in one sense – because the new man at UK Athletics is the renowned sports psychiatrist – Dr Steve Peters.

When he took over his new role, Black said he regarded himself as a "harder" man than Van Commenee, which raised more than a few eyebrows given the former incumbent's hard-line attitude to the achievement of targets – an attitude, indeed, which dictated his own decision to leave.

Black explained that his "hardness" pertained to a desire to push things harder and more quickly than even Van Commenee had done. But his subsequent comments shed light on the Van Commenee dynamic which some within the sport had found difficult to take.

"Charles would go and say [to athletes] 'You're underperforming', and that's great for some and absolutely terrible for others," Black said. "Some people love him for his directness and some people think he's a monster."

The "directness" of which Black spoke was never more in evidence than at the Athens 2004 Olympics, when Van Commenee reduced one the athletes he coached, British heptathlete Kelly Sotherton, to tears after she had won a bronze medal. Van Commenee felt she should have pushed harder for silver.

Charles van_commenee_accused_Kelly_Sotherton_of_settling_for_Bronze_at_Athens_2004Charles van Commenee accused Kelly Sotherton of settling for Bronze at Athens 2004

Now UK Athletics has a man who is likely to approach the motivation of elite performers in a different and, dare one say, subtler fashion.

Peters' success in moulding the minds of Britain's all-conquering cyclists over the last decade has been abundant, and widely acknowledged. Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton are among the competitors who have paid tribute to his ability to help them cast out the negative and optimise their performances.

I got an insight into how this process worked when I interviewed Peters a few months after the Beijing 2008 Games after he had passed on some of his thoughts to 80 promising young sports performers gathered at a Youth Sports Trust camp at Loughborough University.

Peters made it clear early on that he is not a psychologist, but a psychiatrist who worked in hospital medicine before taking up his full-time position with British Cycling. If you want to get technical about it, his full title is Dr Steve Peters MBBS MRCPsych BA PGCE MEd (medical) Dip Sports Med Consultant Psychiatrist/Undergraduate Dean Sheffield Medical School.

Oh yes, and he's a former World Masters 200 metres champion too.

Other than that, however, just a sad under-achiever...

dr steve_peters_bradley_wiggins_22-10-12Steve Peters (L) has used his mind techniques on the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins (R) and Victoria Pendleton

Peters explained to the youngsters present that their brains had different compartments. The conscious part of them at the front of their heads sat alongside a section deeper in their head which contained, in his phrase, "a chimp". This chimp is the instinctive force which countermands positive efforts with mutterings of defeatism and doom.

The cyclist wants to put his body on the line in the hectic and dangerous environment of a steeply-banked track filled with brakeless machines going pell-mell. The chimp chips in with comments such as "I can't do this" or "I'm going to break my neck".

What Peters specialises in, he maintains, is "chimp-management". His expertise lies in getting sporting figures to get their unruly chimp under control, or, if this proves particularly difficult, putting the chimp away into a temporary box.

What he terms "gremlins and goblins" lurk elsewhere in the brain, ready to inform the aspiring sportsman or woman at the crucial moment that they feel terrible, and that they are going to lose, and that everything is riding on this one moment. They too can be eradicated or quelled.

"Chris Hoy knows his chimp very well," said Peters. "He has gone on record as saying his achievements are all about 'boxing the chimp'. Victoria Pendleton is one of my best pupils. She used to get extremely frustrated about dealing with her 'chimp'.

"Several years ago we timed how long it took her to get completely in control of her feelings before competing, and it was one hour and 20 minutes. Nowadays she can do that in five minutes."

dr steve_peters_22-10-12If Steve Peters (L) can replicate his British Cycling success at UK Athletics it will be great to see the athletes believe they can achieve

Peters himself maintained that he doesn't have any problems from his own chimp for this very good reason:

"I've got a gorilla". He added: "People are amazed when I lose my temper. It doesn't happen very often but I'm no different to anyone else. I'm human."

Sir Chris, Pendleton and co might dispute that – they evidently believe Peters is a little bit superhuman. But it will be fascinating to see how this mastermind of mind-mastering gets on with the challenge of making Britain's athletes believe they can achieve.

It would be good to see Martyn Rooney, for instance, the 400m runner who finished so deflated and self-critical after failing to live up to home hopes at the London 2012 Olympics, entering next year's IAAF World Championships in a better frame of mind. It would be good to see the men's sprint relay team managing to get the baton safely round the track. It would be good to see...a British women's sprint relay team at all.

Of course, there will be many factors in play to bring such changes about. But if Peters can replicate his British Cycling success, then UK Athletics is surely onto a very good thing.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the past five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames.